Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gazbia Sirry: A painter's journey

Gazbia Sirry, Untitled (Hope), 2013. Courtesy, Zamalek Art Gallery, Cairo
Yesterday, as I was looking at recent paintings by the Egyptian artist Gazbia Sirry (b. 1925), I could  not get over the mesmerizing impact of her painterly gestures. For an artist who in the 1940s and 50s trained and painted in a rigorous academic style, before she, like her other peers in the famed Group of Modern Art, explore the combined lessons of Parisian modernism and with depiction of an Egyptian national character, her journey has been as remarkable as it has been long. And as these late paintings show, she has come close to that point only few artists are privileged to reach: that moment when the hand, mind and paint engage in a mystical dance, a spare dance along the edges of the imagination. There is something effortless, yet powerfully restrained; loquacious, yet meditative about her handling of paint in these canvases. It is as if, I am standing before an oracle the utterance of which is laced with arcane proverbs and turns of phrase the meaning of which I must unravel to make sense of my world.
Gazbia Sirry, Untitled (Hope), 2012. Courtesy, Zamalek Art Gallery, Cairo
In the late 1960s, following the 1967 Arab-Isreali War (aka Six-Day War) that bruised the Egyptian national spirit, Sirry's previously well-formed figures and landscapes--reflecting the certainty of hope in the wake of the 1952 Gamal Abdel Nasser-led Revolution--began to dissolve. The earlier pictorial realism incrementally gave way abstract forms; houses became human forms became houses. Painting became, it seems, a process of meditation about the nature of the human, and about the imagined community. Now, as these recent works suggest, painting for Sirry is, as never before, a resolutely potent medium for pondering the nature of being, of time and fate. Each and every mark she makes now come across as, not simply an exercise in manipulation of paint or of composing pictorial space, but an act of opening the window of the imagination to allow us feel the inchoate order that existed and still exists before and beyond the world we know.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards: Call for Applications

Closing Date: Monday 2 May 2016

    The African Critical Inquiry Programme is pleased to announce the 2016 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards to support African doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are enrolled at South African universities and conducting dissertation research on relevant topics. Grant amounts vary depending on research plans, with a maximum award of ZAR 40,000.
    The African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles and practice of public culture, public cultural institutions and public scholarship in shaping identities and society in Africa. The Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards are open to African postgraduate students (regardless of citizenship) in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Applicants must be currently registered in a Ph.D. programme in a South African university and be working on topics related to ACIP’s focus. Awards will support doctoral research projects focused on topics such as institutions of public culture, particular aspects of museums and exhibitions, forms and practices of public scholarship, culture and communication, and the theories, histories and systems of thought that shape and illuminate public culture and public scholarship. Awards are open to proposals working with a range of methodologies in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, including research in archives and collections, fieldwork, interviews, surveys, and quantitative data collection.
    For full information about this opportunity and how to apply, see the Call for Applications listed under “ACIP Opportunities” on our website:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jelili Atiku: Performing the Ineffable

Jelili Atiku, Okokojiya, 2011 (performance with Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Ejigbo, Lagos)
Photo courtesy the artist
The artist Jelili Atiku (b. 1968, Ejigbo, Lagos) has built a substantial reputation in the past decade as, arguably, the leading performance artist working in Nigeria today. Trained at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Lagos where he respectively earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture, Atiku began enacting politically-charged public performances in 2004, in Zaria and Lagos to wide popular acclaim. In doing this work, he has faced tremendous personal risk and has, for years, received little support and acknowledgment from the Nigerian art world. In more recent years, however, his performances, have received increasing critical acclaim and have taken him to major events, festival and exhibitions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. In Nigeria’s fraught socio-economic and political environment, Atiku’s performances are nothing but unprecedented radical interventions and artistic statements. His art is motivated by the ethic of speaking truth to power at the local and national levels, which in turn explains his willingness to take his work to the unknown but ever present dangers of the Lagos streets, even as he champions the cause of performance as an artistic genre in Nigeria.

Jelili Atiku, Red Light (In the Red series #06) performance at the Fine Arts Department / Community market, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2009
Photo: Jerry Buhari
It is important to emphasize the fact that in describing Atiku as a performance artist, we must understand that his work transcends that genre, which has normatively been limited to the sanitized, elitist space of the gallery or the museum—controlled environments where the artist and his audience are united in their mutual investment in the integrity and autonomy of the work of art. When Atiku takes his performances to the busy and densely populated Ejigbo section of Lagos, he submits himself and his art to the vagaries of the uncontrolled public space. In doing this, he is compelled by an inner urge to directly interact with his neighbors and strangers about particular local, national and international socio-political events or issues that impact their lives and the body politic. According to the artist, he puts his work “at service of the prevailing concerns of our times; especially those issues threatening our collective existence and the sustenance of our universe.” Thus, one of his most recognizable works, The Red Series, draws attention to the state of insecurity and wasting of lives in Nigeria by criminal and state agents, while other projects, including his multimedia installations, have engaged political assassinations, environmental degradation and traumas of the postcolonial condition.

But these enactments, because they combine an inventive range of costume, and intense dramatic action, constitute in themselves an inspired expression of the ineffable. And it is here that one sees the artistic inspiration for Atiku’s performance in the masking and ritual drama of the Yoruba and other African peoples rather than in the existentialist utopianism of, say, the Situationist International and performance artists inspired by them in Europe and the United States. For as in Yoruba masking, Atiku’s work thrives on the charged, organic, symbiotic relationship between the performer and his heterogeneous public—an interaction that can lead to ritual and aesthetic catharsis, but also sometimes to violence and bodily harm. It is the unpredictability of the public’s response and his vulnerability in the shadow of ever-present security agents that give his performance art its psychological and aesthetic charge.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nka no. 37 (Nov. 2015) Cover

Friday, January 15, 2016

"New Photography from Africa" @ The Walther Collection, New York

Opening: Thursday, February 4, 6-8pm

Close to Home
New Photography from Africa

Andrew Esiebo, Sabelo Mlangeni, Mimi Cherono Ng'ok, Musa Nxumalo, and Thabiso Sekgala

Mimi Cherono Ng'ok, Chebet and Chemu in the garden, from The Other Country, 2008-2014. 
Courtesy the artist and The Walther Collection

Close to Home
New Photography from Africa

Opening Reception: 
Thursday, February 4, from 6pm-8pm
The Walther Collection Project Space
526 West 26th Street, Suite 718 | New York City

The Walther Collection is pleased to announce the second installment of its multi-year exhibition series on contemporary photography and video art from Africa. Presented thematically from 2015 to 2017, and expanding the collection's longstanding focus on African photography, this program features a diverse range of emerging artists who are exploring new visions of social identity in Africa and the African Diaspora. It will culminate in spring 2017 with a major exhibition at The Walther Collection's museum in Neu-Ulm, Germany, which will be accompanied by a catalogue co-published by Steidl.

Close to Home brings together five young photographers who represent a powerful new vision of portrait photography in Africa. Andrew Esiebo (Nigeria), Sabelo Mlangeni (South Africa), Mimi Cherono Ng'ok (Kenya), Musa Nxumalo (South Africa), and Thabiso Sekgala (South Africa) explore intense social relationships, vividly documenting the flawed beauty of everyday life. 

Through intimate portrayals of friends and family, in-depth accounts of eclectic sub-cultures and communities, and typological studies of professions, the artists in Close to Home explore the emotional ties between subject and landscape, engaging with complex senses of belonging and self-identification. Together, working between familiarity and distance, self- discovery and generational portrait, these artists are at the vanguard of visual storytelling.

Cultural Speed Date @Prince Claus Fund

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Ayan Mahamoud (L) met Simon Kristensen (R) at Cultural Speed Date in 2011
Photo: courtesy, Prince Claus Fund

I have been so knee-jerk suspicious of managed dating, and don't even bother to ask me why. But here is one that I might in fact try out soon: it is called Cultural Speed Date and is hosted by Prince Claus Fund--the dynamic foundation based in the Netherland, and which has been at the fore front of supporting cultural projects, artists, knowledge producers, and activists all over the world. So what is going on! In any case, the speed dating blog site is still green, but there a few love stories there. Just check it out!

*Disclaimer: If you try the speed dating and things don't work out, please don't come crying to me. See your cultural therapist

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Postdoctoral Fellowship @ The Phillips Collection / University of Maryland

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Call For Applications
postdoctoral fellowships
Feb 15, 2016
The Phillips Collection and the University of Maryland invite applications for two postdoctoral fellowships for the academic year 2016-2017. These fellowships will allow the recipients to work with The Phillips's exceptional collection of modern and contemporary art and the University of Maryland's leadership programs in art-historical scholarship, interdisciplinary experimentation, and virtual technologies.
  1. The Fellowship in Modern and Contemporary Art History will support research and teaching on topics in American, European, or non-western art of all media from 1780 to the present.
  2. The Fellowship in Virtual Culture will research emerging forms of virtual culture and the advancement of technology to enhance and enrich/deepen the museum visitor's experience.
During the academic year 2016-2017, both fellows are expected to be in residence in Washington, DC, at the University of Maryland Center for Art and Knowledge at The Phillips Collection.
Each fellow is expected to teach on undergraduate or graduate course at the Center or the University of Maryland, to present at least one public lecture, and to participate in other programs and discussions with scholars, critics, museum staff, and students at the museum and the university.
For details on how to apply, visit the Postdoctoral Fellowships web page
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Postdoc Fellowship Opportunity @ Princeton

African Humanities Postdoctoral Research Associate

The Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), the Department of African American Studies (DAAS), and the Department of English at Princeton University invite applications for a postdoctoral research associate position (1 to 3 years beyond the Ph.D.) or an associate research scholar position (4 to 5 years beyond the Ph.D.) for the 2016–17 year (beginning September 1, 2016) from scholars working in any field of the humanities dealing with Africa or the African diaspora. Consideration will be given to candidates working in all disciplines in the humanities broadly defined, including anthropology, art and archaeology, comparative literature, English, film and video history, literatures in other languages, music, philosophy, religion, and women and gender studies. Initial appointment is for one year with possibility of renewal for a second year pending satisfactory performance and continued funding. The successful candidate will be involved in the organization and activities of the African Humanities Colloquium and may be able to teach one course each year with the approval of the Dean of the Faculty.

Eligible candidates must have completed the Ph.D. by the start of the appointment.
The salary for the position will depend on the number of years beyond the Ph.D., not to exceed five. The research associate or associate research scholar will also receive a modest research and travel fund and will be eligible for benefits.
To apply, please link to, position requisition number 1501047. Applications should include:
(1) cover letter with title and summary (200 words) of proposed research project;
(2) research proposal (five pages; 2,000 words), including detailed description of project, timetable, and explicit goals;
(3) selected bibliography;
(4) curriculum vitae and list of publications;
(5) sample chapter of the dissertation or other recent work;
(6) a suggested syllabus for a course; and
(7) names and contact information for three references from individuals who are not current members of the Princeton University faculty.

Application Deadline: February 29, 2016, 11:59 EST. Awards will be announced by March 31, 2016. This position is subject to the University’s background check policy.
Questions about the application process for this position may be directed to Beate Witzler at

Princeton University is an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,